Melbourne – Guangzhou – Amsterdam – Paris – Veurne
The challenge of getting planes to Paris
This may seem like a tale of woe. Actually, let’s be honest. It is. But it all worked out in the end. It always does.
The journey is always long and tedious, but it is what it is, and we just grin and bear it. We were travelling from Melbourne via Guangzhou again on a KLM ticket with legs handled by China Southern and then Air France. Isn’t modern flight logistics fun!
So, the second leg picked up by Air France and into Paris. Well, that was the intention anyway. As we notched up the first leg, and presented ourselves at passport control in Guangzhou, we were told there was no Air France flight to Paris that night. It had been cancelled, but there would be one the following midnight! What to do? (We will be thoroughly checking to see if we were informed of this cancellation, but have not identified any emails to date. We will follow this up later.) So we were faced with finding a hotel for 30 hours, which we really didn’t want to do.
So the helpful staff member asked us to go and sit ‘over there’ (in a corner, behind some shrubbery) while they continued to process all the other passengers. After a while, they said they did have a China Southern flight to Paris this evening… but it was full. Back to the shrubbery to wait some more. After about two hours, she called us over and said they could get us on a flight to Amsterdam, followed by a short hop to Paris.
Concerns at this point included: would our luggage be joining us eventually / at all / in which European city; would we forfeit our pre-booked TGV from Paris; would we make the second train from Lille to Dunkirk, where we had booked a hire car? All fascinating questions to which we had no answers.
So we accepted the offered flight and occupied ourselves for the next four hours watching a little of the World Cup in the waiting space (can’t really call it a lounge) and with tea bags and a little milk we had carried with us, we did make ourselves a hot cuppa at the instant hot water station. Entertainment and drinks!
The flight got us into Amsterdam with just enough time to get to the gate for the Paris flight. Should we check for luggage? China thought our bags would be in Amsterdam. Amsterdam thought our bags would be in Paris. Nothing to do but continue. Arriving in Paris, we were grinning like kids in a sweet shop when our two grubby orange bags were spat out onto the belt and almost the first to be processed.
Rushing for trains
Passport control had been done in Amsterdam, so we ran with our bags to find the platform for the TGV. We might still make it, as we could see it had been delayed by about 20 minutes.
You are thinking – cool, no sweat, sorted. We were thinking that too. But the reality was a little different. Firstly, we found ourselves on the wrong platform – racing for a TGV about to leave and only being saved as we panted down towards the guard, who told us this was NOT the train to Lille. Oops.
So we needed to get back up in the lift and find the other TGV platform (otherwise known as the ‘right’ one). Easier said than done. One tiny lift, moving at a snail’s pace, many people needing to use it. So Lisette squeezed in, leaving Ian with the baggage trolley, to locate the platform so when Ian could fit into the lift, we would know exactly where we needed to be. It took 20 minutes before Ian got a turn! 20 minutes! The lift was painfully slow and there were many many people who wanted to use it each with a trolley load of luggage. They would push every button – up, down, every level – and with Lisette at the top waiting for Ian, each time the doors opened, it was not uncommon to see the same confused set of people still trapped in there, not sure why they had not yet been spat out.
But that was fine, because the train arrival into Paris was now 25 minutes late. We might yet make it. With an enormous sense of relief when Ian finally reappeared, we bolted for the platform, and as we tore down looking for our carriage, Lisette begged the conductor to let us get on, even as the whistle was being raised to tell the driver to pull out. We had only moments to get the heavy bags off the trolley and into the train, whereupon one bag burst open and scattered a selection of lacy underwear, some dresses and a set of noise-cancelling headphones. Grabbing what we hoped was everything and pulling it on board the doors closed behind us and the train started. (It turns out, while Ian was waiting for the lift, he had thoughtfully relocated a few hand luggage items into the large bags so there was less stuff to carry. It also turns out that he may not have zipped the bag back up again.)
You might think that having made this train, we might make the connection in Lille. We certainly hoped so. But… the TGV comes into ‘Lille Europe’. The ‘local’ trains arrive and leave from ‘Lille Flandres’. About one kilometre apart. Up over a long bridge, down onto a broken footpath, across what had been a large stone courtyard the last time we used a train in Lille. Hot, sweaty, dusty… to find every route we tried to take across the now torn-up courtyard, (always something being repaired, replaced, rebuilt in France), repeatedly faced with dead ends. We finally found an point of entry into the station and Lisette, in her best panting French, asked for our platform, yelled for Ian to follow and raced off. Yes, we made it.
Arriving a while later in Dunkirk, we tore out of the station to arrive at Europcar with its shutters firmly down, as it was now lunchtime. And would be lunchtime for the next two hours. So we sat on the ground and waited.
Eventually stepped on Catharina Elisabeth some 42 hours after leaving home in Melbourne.
Whereupon we set to restarting the various systems, cleaning and airing bedlinen, before treating ourselves to a lovely dinner in Veurne, collapsing into bed at the 48-hour mark. Would we do it again? We have to, really. No choice.